Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns has responded to the latest figures setting out the impact on universities in Wales of the Welsh Government's tuition fees policy:
This is yet further evidence of an uncosted policy cobbled together, intended to make a political statement, with little thought as to the consequences for students or the standing of Welsh higher education.
Labour Ministers still have questions to answer as to why a number of Cabinet Ministers were expected to sign off an expensive flagship policy without seeing the full cost implications.
We hope Labour Ministers will learn the lessons of this case of sloppy, rushed policymaking and change the timetable of their drawn-out review of HE funding to permit a public debate on tuition fees ahead of the 2016 election.
HEFCW have reaffirmed fears that the Welsh Labour Government’s current higher education funding system isn’t sustainable. It's particularly worrying that they predict the amount of money leaving Wales’ already underfunded institutions is set to increase further. The Education Minister has kicked the ball in the long grass by having his review into HE funding report back until after the Assembly elections. This means that we can’t expect to see a new system in place until at least 2019. That is simply too long a period to continue this unsustainable system.
For years the Welsh Labour Government has stuck its head in the sand over this issue. It must accept that mistakes have been made. Only this week we learnt that HEFCW had reservations about the estimated figures the Welsh Government put forward for this policy, but their advice was not sought. It is time the Welsh Labour Government started to listen and act more responsibly.
Plaid Cymru's Education Spokesperson, Simon Thomas, says these new figures show that the way students and universities are funded is unsustainable in the long term.
The increasing weight of evidence from both the Finance Committee inquiry and the Welsh Auditor's report this week points to the fundamental unsustainability of the current funding regime for students and universities.
Though Plaid Cymru does not believe it is wrong in principle to fund students studying outside Wales, the lack of fair funding for Wales does force all political parties to rethink their priorities in HE.
Plaid Cymru has been consulting on alternatives and while our core policy will remain free higher education tuition for all, until that is affordable we will concentrate on working up proposals that ensure access to HE is open to all; that those from less privileged backgrounds get a head start; that key subjects in Wales such as medicine and science, technology and engineering (STEM) are supported; that Welsh universities have sufficient funding to be attractive to studens and researches and that we improve our take of the Research Councils' funding.
– Simon Thomas AM, Plaid Cymru Education spokesperson
New figures reveal that £50m of Welsh Government money this year is going directly to universities elsewhere in the UK because of its tuition fees policy. The figure is revealed in evidence published by the Assembly's Finance Committee. You can read it here.
In its evidence, the organisation representing higher education institutions, Higher Education Wales, says universities face an 'uncertain' future as a result of the changes. And it warns that they pose a risk to 'higher-cost' courses like medicine and engineering. HEW says:
Changes to the way universities are funded 'poses risks' to provision of 'higher-cost' subjects like medicine and engineering, Welsh medium provision and ensuring more students from disadvantaged backgrounds attend university.
· Evidence from Wales and England shows that higher tuition fees of up to £9000 aren't putting off students from lower-income backgrounds 'with or without fee grant payments' like the Welsh subsidy
Universities can't take any further funding cuts 'without serious consequences' for their activities.
Plaid Cymru AM Simon Thomas was an adviser to the One Wales coalition government which introduced the cap on tuition fees in Wales. But he says the Wales Audit Office report calls into question the policy's long-term affordability.
The Education Minister, Huw Lewis welcomes the Wales Audit Office's report into Welsh tuition fees. He says:
This report vindicates our stance on funding for Welsh universities and financial support for Welsh students. The evidence presented confirms that our tuition fee policy is affordable and sustainable for the lifetime of this Government and beyond.
On the 18 November, I announced proposals for an independent review of higher education funding and student finance arrangements in Wales. This report provides important evidence which will help to inform future thinking.
The Welsh Government will reply formally to the Wales Audit Office’s findings and recommendations in due course.
A report by the Wales Audit Office which shows a 24% increase in the costs of capping tuition fees in Wales has been described as 'shocking' and 'scathing' by Welsh Conservatives. Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns says:
Costs were grossly under-estimated and based on wildly unreliable variables, the policy continues to siphon off tens of millions of pounds to English universities and as the report clearly states, the cap on student numbers could deny Welsh-domiciled students the chance to study at Welsh universities.
Labour’s tuition fee subsidy has completely failed to widen access to higher education, has starved Welsh universities of vital funding and has made it more difficult for our higher education sector to compete in the global race.
Labour Ministers have now cynically tried to take the heat out of this report by rushing out their announcement of a review into HE funding, albeit with no terms of reference or detail and purely simple-minded responses to key questions.
We hope Labour Ministers will study the detailed recommendations of this report, learn the lessons of their sloppy, rushed policymaking and change the timetable of their drawn-out review of HE funding to permit a public debate ahead of the 2016 election.